Freedom of speech isn’t a blank check

Welcome to this episode of The Whitest Things in the World: Free Speech Edition!

Free speech? Really? That whole concept is just about the weirdest, most hubristic fantasy anyone could ever imagine, but holy shit, do white people believe in it! I swear, only a group of people encased in the arrogant armor of their own permission would ever believe in this tooth fairy bullshit.

First of all, people who bring it up the most get it wrong. All it takes is one disagreement on the internet to reveal the sheer mass of people who think “Freedom of Speech” means freedom from consequence.

“I can’t believe he got fired for saying that! Whatever happened to freedom of speech?”

Well, nothing happened to it. You just never actually knew what it meant. FYI, it means the government can’t punish someone for speaking out, but I understand where you are coming from. When you are part of a protected class, suddenly not having permission to do something probably strikes at the core of who you are just now perceiving yourself to be.

If you’re part of a group that has never had its rights withheld, actual laws written against it, or been murdered, bombed, tortured, treated as a disease or experimented on by the government for just being part of a group, the difference between an angry comment on social media and government sanctioned violence may be unclear.

This kind of misunderstanding is at the core of racism. Race itself—as it is currently understood in this country—exists as a hierarchy. White is on the top, Black and Native American on the bottom. Everyone else somewhere in between, but all closer to the bottom than the top. Racism is the exploitation and reinforcement of that hierarchy.

That’s why “nigger” is fighting words and “honky” probably sounds funny to you.

Everyone instinctively knows this, but that won’t stop some white people from claiming they experience racism. And even though they look like everyone from the people on the money to the white-sanctioned “official” Jesus, some white people will even say they’re the ones who actually experience racism.

Also, and I know you’re not gonna like this, you shouldn’t be allowed to say whatever you want. It’s a bad idea. Absolute free speech only works if everyone is of equal social standing and speaks only in good faith. And probably not even then.

All it takes is one stroll through 4chan to see that absolute freedom of speech eventually devolves into who can hate the most the fastest. The thing about hate is that it’s destructive, so if you are reliant on any kind of order in your life, which you infinitely are, hate is something you can’t allow.

I know some of you are having a hard time following that idea, but guess what? It doesn’t matter. Your speech is already limited. If you don’t believe me, just walk up to the next cop you see and tell him you plan on murdering him. If he arrests you, just explain to the judge that you have freedom of speech. Then, when you’re on the stand, just lie and say you never did it. If the judge tries to call you out on it you just tell that judge, “Eat shit, motherfucker.”

Everything should work out just fine. Seriously though, you’re censored in ways you don’t even realize.

Now, at this point some of you may be wondering whether or not I am pro-censorship. To you I will say pay closer attention! Censorship exists. Some of it is bad and some of it is good, but the topic itself is nuanced.

People need to be able to speak truth to power.

But in order for that to happen, other people need to get honest about just who’s got the power.

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Any rat can learn a single maze; that doesn’t make the rat a genius

Y’all. We gotta stop calling Stephen Miller a mastermind. Seriously. We’re calling him a mastermind way too much. He’s ain’t no mastermind. He’s and idiot who benefits from a system that is designed to benefit him.

That shit is obvious from the second you even start to think about it. He’s taking peoples’ rights away, but this country doesn’t just give out rights. In fact, it often takes droves of people fighting as hard as they can for as long as they can and sacrificing everything they have including their very lives just in hopes that a generation they’ll never even meet can have the most basic dignity of being recognized as human.

The people who have accomplished that are goddamn masterminds. But guess what. Those rights can be taken away pretty easily. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it burned in one because any fucking fool can start a fire.

So, no. Stephen Miller is not a fucking mastermind. He’s an imbecile that can only even exist because this country values its own fragility over its competence. He’s the soft ooze that leaks from a machine built to produce hard ooze.

I think the reason this bothers me so much is that calling Miller a mastermind continues down the path of the destruction of a clear and obvious reality (for now). I mean, if you’re a Nazi or Republican or whatever else you wanna call it, sure, Miller is a mastermind. For you and your standards that’s probably true, but the rest of us should fucking know better.

Like, the president is obviously a hateful, feeble-minded, overly sensitive coward who is somehow incapable of even baring this country’s most basic standard of humanity. Obviously. Or, you know, as his supporters believe, he’s a fair-minded, wise, tough warrior-champion, who is M-ing AGA.

Those people can believe that. I’ve spent my life experiencing worse than that from those people, so I’m fine with it. I expect them to think Miller is a mastermind, but if you’re not on their side, let’s not give this turd the benefit of the shine.

Now, listen. I’ve spoken about this before, but I was homeless for a little while when I was a kid. And I lived in a youth shelter for a minute. I got there right around the same time as this other kid, Billy. We were very similar. We were both gangly nerds who read a lot and couldn’t break the habit of talking too much about shit no one else cared about. In those ways, we were very different than the other boys at the shelter.

The other boys were tougher and more prone to violence. And, of course, because this was in Maine, they were all white. Billy, too.

Guess which one of us got our ass kicked every other day.

Did you guess me?

If you did, you are wrong. Believe it or not, Billy bore the bruises. This was because we had come from very different places. I came from foster homes where I was often the only Black person at school and always the only Black person at home. I had to learn how to stay out of peoples’ way. Not Billy, though. He came from a place where you could provoke anyone as much as you like because you could always yell for the teacher and walk away victorious.

Unfortunately for Billy, the shelter was nowhere near where he was from.

He’d provoke another kid, and run to the counselor. Sometimes he’d make it. Sometimes he didn’t, but even when he did, the counselors had to turn their backs sometime and vengeance is patient. Billy couldn’t square the environment that created him with the environment he was in, so the environment squared him. Over and over.

I left the shelter before Billy, so I don’t know if he ever learned. I like to think that he did. I like to think that he’s doing well in the world and no one ever says of him, “That guy should’ve gotten his ass kicked more as a kid.”

Now, look: Am I saying that Stephen Miller needs his ass kicked? Not in public, I’m not.

What I am saying is that he’s the product of his environment. We have systems that are made to create Millers and because the Millers are created by those systems, the Millers know how to use the systems.

A rat raised in a maze will know how to run that maze, but only that particular maze. In the end, a rat is gonna be a rat. He’s gonna run. He’s gonna spread disease. A rat can’t change what it is and neither can we.

But we can change the maze.

If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

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No, no…you can’t do it *that* way (why not?)

Sometimes white people say they’re on my side. Then they say some shit like this:
I don’t think that kind of protest is a good idea because of how it looks.

The ironically obvious problem here is that just by giving that unsolicited advice, they are ignoring it for themselves—in other words, it’s a terrible look. I mean, the fact that anyone says that shit in public proves that they have no idea how their words make them look to people like me. But, you know, how things look to people like me are almost never really the concern.

In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail Dr. King wrote about the shortsighted need some feel to criticize acts of protest. Believe it or not, that criticism is alive and well and the how-it-looks version has to be the most fucking annoying.

It makes this presumption of authority. They say it as though they are veteran leaders of the most thorough focus groups. Or noble pollsters of the highest order. Or objectively stalwart students of the human pattern. In reality, that Black friend they won’t shut up about doesn’t even remember their name.

For real, to whom do these actions not look good? For whose favor should we adjust our behavior? Do you think that there are people who say shit like, “Well, I didn’t used to think that Black people should be killed by the cops … Right up until I saw them stand up for themselves!”? Trick question. Some people like that are definitely out there—it’s just that they’re lying when they say they weren’t always okay with violence against Black people.

This idea of people who will be put off the idea of racial justice because people of color protest is flawed because there is no such group of people. No one is on the fence about race. There are motherfuckers losing their goddamned livelihoods because the president fucked them over and they proudly still support him. You think they want Black people to do anything other than do what we’re told? They don’t. They don’t care about us or how anything “looks.” Again, not to be petty, but their president’s head looks like balled-up, wet toilet paper held together with dried up smoker’s phlegm, old gum and shower-drain hair.

Did you know that Obama lost the white vote both times? Did you know he got 5 million fewer white votes the second time around? Well, that’s all true and ain’t none of it because his behavior was offensive.

I agree with what they’re saying, just not how they’re saying it.
This is similar to “how it looks,” except, this one is usually a fucking lie. If you see someone getting murdered and say, “I agree that you’re being murdered, but I wanna talk about why you’re being so rude about it,” it’s pretty hard to believe you care about anyone’s life but your own.

I don’t like the president, but I want him to succeed.
Do you? Really? Because that’s what he’s doing. He’s completely succeeding in tearing children from their families and appointing judges to remove the rights of our fellow citizens and destroying our relationships with allies and aligning us with dictators and on and on. He is absolutely succeeding and that’s what you want? Maybe you mean you want the country to succeed. They’re two different things.

I’d love to hear them defend that!
I hear this after every single shitty thing the republicans do. The thing is, they will defend it and it won’t matter how inadequate you think that defense is. They’re only paying lip service. It’s not about compassion or humanity. Not for them. They don’t answer to you.

Hate never wins.
Tell it to the Native Americans.

America is better than this.
Oh, yeah? Is it? Since when? Do you want to MAGA?

In the end, this country is only a story we tell ourselves. There is a USA for white people and a completely different USA for Black people. Black people know this because we’re in your country all the time. Just to exist, we have to hear your stories everywhere we go. Your books and movies. Your history. We know the role we play in your story, but you don’t know the role you play in ours. You don’t come here. You don’t know our stories. You don’t know Ezekiel Rawlins, you haven’t heard Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song and you don’t really know how we got here. If you did, you’d know when to listen.

If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

Comments will close on this post in 60-90 days; earlier if there are spam attacks or other nonsense.

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